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  • Jancis Robinson
Written by
  • Jancis Robinson
3 Jan 2004

Much of the information below was published by the Financial Times 03 Jan 04

As a visitor to the rapidly-evolving (but still a little ramshackle, I'm afraid) jancisrobinson.com, you are obviously already interested in wine, but it can be rewarding to submit yourself to some sort of formal education in the subject - not least because (as I know from personal experience), this forces you to learn about those aspects of the subject that you have never taken the trouble to investigate.

New Year is a good time for self-improvement and wine can be a great deal more fun than Car Maintenance, for example. Courses available vary from the unabashedly hedonistic to the thoroughly academic. Here is a selection of some of the most reputable of the hundreds available worldwide.

INTERNATIONAL

Wine & Spirit Education Trust, London EC4 +44 20 72363551 wset.co.uk
The big daddy of them all, the British wine trade's professional educational body now runs courses at a variety of levels in 24 different countries and four languages. Many non-professionals now take the courses too. The WSET Diploma exam is virtually a pre-requisite for the Master of Wine course (see below).

Institute of Masters of Wine, London EC4 +44 20 7236 4427 mastersofwine.org
This is the highest academic calling for wine merchants (as opposed to winemakers and vine growers who may prefer to take specific degrees in those subjects). I described the hoops MW candidates have to jump through in detail a few weeks ago. Fewer than 300 people, from all over the world, have qualified for those coveted initials since the Institute's beginnings in 1953. Courses and exams are held in the UK, US and Australia with Germany in the pipeline.

Bordeaux University oenoadm@oenologie.u-bordeaux2.fr
The Oenology faculty runs very high-powered, full, residential academic courses in both the production and appreciation of wine. An ability to speak French is virtually a prerequisite.

Other leading wine universities include:

LONDON

Christie's, London W1 +44 20 7665 4350
Five weekly early evenings in new premises in Great Titchfield Street of fine, usually French wines plus such luminaries of the wine world as Michael Broadbent, Stephen Spurrier etc £210.

Sotheby's, London W1 +44 20 7293 5727
Six sessions of fine wines and Masters of Wine making up various courses just off Bond Street. Very similar to the Christie's tastings. £200.

Winewise, London N1 +44 20 7254 9734 michaelschusterwine.com
Popular range of particularly practical courses at many levels held by Michael Schuster, mostly early evenings in his Islington basement. His courses are reputedly more fun than most and cover a wider range of wines than the auction houses which tend to concentrate on the finest, most traditional. The six-evening Beginner's Course costs £175.

Berrys' Wine School, London SW1 +44 870 900 4300
Various events in the beautifully-restored cellars of this venerable St James's Street merchant, including a wine course in Japanese (three evening sessions for £135), individual tastings, a Berrys' introductory course and a WSET course (see below). There is also, rather enterprisingly, An Introduction to Wine Luncheon, hosted by Simon Berry and the School's Co-ordinator Rebecca Lamont billed as "a chance to learn how to navigate wine lists and to plan entertaining with aplomb".

Many merchants, societies and individuals all over the world also organise educational wine tastings round a theme, usually early evenings or at weekends. One of the most successful in London has been La Vigneronne, London SW7 which has now been taken over by Handford Wine +44 20 7589 6113. The high powered tastings are held in the cellar of the Old Brompton Road shop and are priced at £25-75 each.

Kiwi newcomer to London Linden Wilkie is trying his luck with the Fine Wine Experience, a series of similar fine wine tastings every Tuesday evening in the rather more comfortable setting of the Institute of Directors, London SW1. See www.finewineexperience.com +44 20 7692 0602. Fine wines are served with well qualified speakers and cost £40-100 each.

UK

Plumpton College, East Sussex plumpton.ac.uk
A practical introductory course on vine growing with the emphasis on English vineyards. High level of lecturers.

Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester +44 1285 652531 royagcol.ac.uk
One year course offers MBA and Postgraduate Diplomas in Wine Business Management to students of any nationality. Based in south west England, this relatively new branch of the Agricultural College is aimed at graduates and wine professionals.

The Association of Wine Educators wineeducators.com
This group of about 60 lecturers all over Britain with at least WSET Diploma or equivalent experience can be hired to lecture and conduct tastings and many offer their own local courses.

The Wine Education Service wine-education-service.co.uk
Formal courses around the UK organised by a group with considerable overlap with The Association of Wine Educators.


US

Windows on the World Wine School www.wowws.com
Kevin Zraly has relocated from the top of the World Trade Center to the Marriott Marquis. $895 for eight Monday evenings concentrating on good wines.

International Wine Center 1133 Broadway, NY 10010 internationalwinecenter.com
Mary Ewing Mulligan MW pioneered the WSET courses (see above) in the US, and
offers a wide range of them here. This school, founded in 1982, is now US headquarters of the WSET.

Harriet Lembeck's Wine & Spirits Program
Long established 10-week evening course held in 18th century NY townhouse on 29th at 3rd. $800 with certificate for those who pass blind tasting. Also one-off New School Wine Classes. Contact hlembeck@mindspring.com

The Sommelier Wine & Food Society Wine Captain's Course
Rob Stewart and Lisa Chedister's 400 9-week evening class in Washington DC at Loews L'Enfant Plaza Hotel. Tel 703 685 7970 or contact winehead@earthlink.net

Chicago Wine School www.wineschool.com
Pat Fegan has been running classes here for years.

Pacific Rim Wine Education Center San Francisco www.pacrimwine.org
Bruce Cass runs a wide range of wine courses, often incorporating food and wine matching.

Society of Wine Educators wine.gurus.com and education@societyofwineeducators.org
The American counterpart of Britain's Association of Wine Educators (see above) although there is no formal minimum qualification for its members.